Do It Yourself for Less: Nine Ways to Save Big Money

Do It Yourself projects that save you moneyLast month we told you about some tasks you're better off letting the pros handle--because messing up could cost you way more than you'd ever save by doing it yourself. But if you're looking for ways to save money, there are a number of tasks you can handle.

Some are jobs anybody can do; others take a little bit of know-how and the willingness to plunge in and get your hands dirty (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally). But you're nearly guaranteed to save big bucks, and there's also the satisfaction that comes from doing something for yourself.
"I like that I can make whatever I want, and I can make my projects look exactly like I want them to look," says Karisa Tell, a hands-on do-it-yourselfer and an editor for a web publishing company in Northbrook, Ill. that specializes in craft sites like FaveCrafts. Tell tells WalletPop that even when she spends as much in materials and supplies, say, decoupaging an old bookcase as she would've spent on a new one, she enjoys knowing that her dollars went toward creating something completely unique.

"I always think it's worth it because you can make exactly what you want without having to settle for an approximation," she says.

Perhaps because of the sluggish economy, the DIY ethos seems to be gaining more fans. Representatives from the website told WalletPop that the site currently gets around 4.5 million visits monthly, which is just over double the number of visits it got in 2008.

Want to get on the DIY bandwagon? Let's start with the easy stuff:

Brew Your Own Coffee

Brew coffeeThe $4 whipped mocha-latte-half-soy-whatever has become a symbol of our overconsumptive tendencies. And even if you're only spending a buck-fifty at a diner or quickie mart, that's still way more than you'd spend brewing it at home and pouring it into a travel mug. Consider this: If you spend $2-- which is a really modest amount, especially in big cities--each day you go to work, that's roughly $40 a month. If you drink a big, 16-ounce cup of joe every morning, you could brew that at home for about 50 cents a day--and that's assuming you're buying gourmet, $8-per-pound coffee. If you drink the supermarket stuff, you're looking at under 40 cents per day. Yes, there's a small cost in the energy to run the coffeemaker and the filters, but that's not going to add more than a penny or two to your daily drink, if that. And even if you like fancy coffee drinks, you'll come out ahead if you DIY. You can buy an espresso/cappuccino maker for a few hundred bucks. If you ordinarily spend $4 per cup of frothy goodness, that machine will pay for itself after only a few months of use.

The bottom line: Switch to home brewing, and save roughly $384 a year.

Make Your Own Lunch--and Dinner, Too

Yes, we know it's not always realistic to fit cooking into a hectic schedule, but if you're looking for a way to trim your budget, cooking at home can save you a bundle.

Karisa Tell says that she packs her lunch every day and generally cooks dinner. She says she saves about 50 percent this way, since her $100 weekly food bill pales in comparison to the $30 she says she'd spend every day if she got takeout for lunch and dinner.

The bottom line: Dropping takeout from your diet could save you $2,600 a year.

Roll your own change

Roll your own coinsIf you belong to one of those families who throws all the change into a big jug or a jar until it's full, this might seem tempting. Those green machines in your local big-box store seem like they'll save you a lot of time, but forgo the urge. Instead, stop by your bank, pick up a bunch of cardboard wrappers, and get to rolling. Why? Coinstar's website says it charges 9.8 percent to turn your change into dollar bills. If you've been dutifully saving your change for months in the hope of splurging on, say, a nice dinner out, that's the difference between dessert or a second glass of wine.

The bottom line: If you hoard $20 worth of change monthly, skipping coin-rolling machines will let you save a little over $23.50 a year.

Wash the Dog at Home

dog washingI'll admit to taking my big guy to the groomer's for a special occasion like a visit to the in-laws. But the $30 they charge me to hose him down is a once-in-a-while splurge. If you have a pooch that'll fit in the bathtub, or a backyard where you can plop down a big tub, you'll literally pay nothing but your time and the seven or eight bucks you'll pay for a bottle of doggie shampoo (trust me, they won't notice if you skip the pricey brands and just go for the cheapest jug of whatever you think smells good). If neither of these are an option, type "self serve dog wash" into a search engine along with your town name or zip code and see what comes up. Some car washes have stations for sudsing up Spot, and they usually cost just $5--that's for bath and blow-dry time, and they even throw in the shampoo. Five bucks versus $30 is an easy decision for me. People with long-haired dogs that require more extensive brushing may save even more by forgoing the groomer, although you might have to invest in some clippers initially for at-home grooming.

The bottom line: Give Rover his monthly bath yourself, and you'll save $348 a year. (We've subtracted $12 for a half-gallon jug of doggie shampoo, which should last the year, if not longer.)

Mow Your Own Grass

mowing lawnIf you've got a spread like the plantation Tara from Gone With the Wind, we'll give you a pass. (Besides, you can probably afford to pay somebody.) Otherwise, why pay a pro $25 a week--or more in some parts of the country--to do a job you (or an older kid) can do yourself? You can buy a lawn mower for a few hundred bucks. If that seems like too much of an upfront investment, check out this article for tips on how to pool your resources with friends or neighbors to jointly purchase the item. Even if you buy it yourself, though, that $300 you spent is probably about the same amount you would've paid your landscaper just for the summer months.

The bottom line: Even if you're buying a mower, doing six months' of lawn care yourself will save you $300. Already have the mower (or access to one)? Double that savings.

Perform Basic Beauty Maintenance

No one's saying do your own hair for your wedding or your daughter's for the prom, but many elements of day-to-day upkeep can be accomplished at home if you're trying to save money.

Many people I know with bangs have mastered the art of trimming them at home; there are YouTube tutorials to help guide you, and you'll probably save at least $10 a month if you currently go to a chain salon, more if you go to a high-end place. Ditto for hair color.

If your hair stylist is like family (or is family), we're not saying to dump her. We're just saying $8 for a box of hair dye vs. anywhere from four to eight times that for a salon job is pretty basic math.

On the same, er, hand, doing a mani-pedi at home is also a favorite of WalletPop's crew of DIYers. Go to a big-box or beauty supply store and spend $15 or so on a buffer with different grades of grit, sticks to push back your cuticles and a double-duty base and topcoat. Even if you're partial to the salon brands of nail polish with the cute names, that brings your total up to about $20, which is about half the cost of a single mani-pedi at most basic nail salons, once you include the tip.

The bottom line: If you normally get your haircolor touched up every eight weeks or so, doing it at home will save you $312 if you're used to paying $60 a pop for a salon job. A year's worth of biweekly at-home mani-pedis will save you $920 (we're assuming you'll need to refill your supplies once).

Now, we'll venture into more adventurous DIY territory. While the projects here aren't for everybody--not only may you not want to tackle making curtains, you may not need curtains--it's a good glimpse into what ordinary people, without any professional background in the projects they tackled, were able to accomplish, often at terrific savings.

Build a Backyard Patio

Building and constructionDon Klosterman, a marketing professional in Long Beach, Calif. loved the rustic, natural look of a stone patio and rock accents in his yard. Having that atmosphere recreated by a professional would cost upward of $2,500, so Klosterman turned to the web and embraced his inner stonemason.

He did online research to find out what kind of materials he'd need to buy and how much, and watched online videos that showed him how to cut and lay the stone. In total, the rocks as well as the lumber he used to fence in the area and the plants he added came to around $800--less than a third of what he would've paid a pro.

"I had a lot of trepidation about starting this," Klosterman admits, but his initial research put his fears to rest and assured him that he was up to the task. "The videos gave me the confidence to move ahead because they showed me it wasn't brain surgery and if I made mistakes I could overcome them," he says.

The end result: Klosterman has a nice patio for about a third of the price that a professional would have charged, and he's gained enough confidence in his DIY skills that he's contemplating other backyard enhancements.

The bottom line: Klosterman saved $1,700 by building his patio himself.

Kitchen remodelingGive Your Kitchen a Makeover

New cabinets and countertops cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy and install, but Nora Firestone, a journalist in Virginia Beach, Va., was able to completely reinvent her kitchen for only a few hundred bucks.

"Five years ago I embarked on a kitchen makeover," Firestone says. "I spent just less than $300 painting the cabinets and resurfacing the old formica countertops."

To further spruce up her new space, she changed hardware and pulls to giver her old cabinets a brand-new look. What's more, she says, "I tackled this project as a relative novice." The trickiest part was resurfacing her countertops, but she says that following step-by-step instructions from the manufacturer (she used a product called SkimStone) gave her results that made the formica finish look like high-end granite or marble.

"This alternative makeover is a perfect solution for people whose kitchen layouts are fine but the materials are dated," Firestone says. Interior painting, in general, is a great "do it yourself" way to refresh a room that needs updating. Yes, it's time- and labor-intensive, but it's not technically difficult in any way.

The bottom line: According to, the lowest average amount you could expect to pay for a professionally remodeled kitchen is $15,000. In other words, Firestone's DIY ethos saved her about $14,700.

Make a Set of Curtains

woman sewingKarisa Tell explains to WalletPop how she fell in love with a set of ruffled curtains at a store. The only problem? The $75 price tag. So, Tell went to a thrift store and bought a pair of sheets for $2, and made her own, which she helpfully explains how to do here.

Yes, you'll need to know your way around a sewing machine to take on this project, but Tell offers this reassurance: "The curtains weren't difficult, but they were definitely time-consuming."

In the end, though, Tell says the $73 savings and the feeling of accomplishment were worth it. For novice sewers, Tell suggests getting your feet wet in the DIY world by making throw pillows: Cut two identically sized squares of fabric, turn them with the "right sides" facing each other, and stitch all the way around the outside, leaving a small hole.

Turn the covering right side out, fill with stuffing and sew up the hole. Even replacing buttons that have fallen off and hemming your own pants can save you money in the long run.

The bottom line: Tell saved $73 by making her own curtains. How much can you save?
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